Baseball Obstruction Rules

Obstruction is one of the most misunderstood rules in baseball. Obstruction is when the runner on the basepaths is prevented from getting to the base he is entitled to run to by a fielder who is not involved in the play at the moment of contact. Obstruction is often confused with interference, which occurs when the baserunner gets in the way or contacts a fielder making a play.

Running the Bases

The batter drives a ball to the right field corner. As the batter rounds first base the first baseman gets in his path and the runner veers off course and is delayed as he gets to second base. Instead of trying for third, the runner decides to stay on second because he does not want to take a chance on getting thrown out. When the play ends, the umpire waves the runner to third because the fielder obstructed the runner by making him change his path. The umpire gives the runner third because he believes he would have gotten there if the obstruction had not occurred.

Obstruction by the Catcher

With a runner on third base and one out, the batter lofts a fly ball to center field. As the outfielder catches the ball, the runner on third takes off for home. The catcher can see that the throw home will be up the third base line. The catcher comes up the line to catch the ball and shoves his hip into the oncoming runner a split second before the ball arrives. The runner goes down hard and never touches home and the catcher tags him out. On this play, the runner is not out and the umpire credits him with a run scored. The catcher cannot block the plate before receiving the ball. Since he hit the runner before he had the ball, he is guilty of obstruction.

Interference by the Runner

While the fielder cannot make contact with a runner or even impede his path if he is not involved in the play, the runner cannot interfere with a fielder who is making a play. For example, on a soft ground ball, the shortstop comes charging in to field the ball. The runner takes off for third and as the shortstop gets set to field the grounder, the runner makes contact. Even though the runner stayed in the basepath, he has interfered with the fielder. He could have gone behind the shortstop or waited a half-second. The fielder always has the right to field a batted ball. In this case, the runner is out on an interference call. Interference and obstruction rulings go hand-in-hand with each other.

About this Author

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.